ERJ staff report (AW)
Detroit, Michigan – Bernie Ecclestone insists that Pirelli will remain as F1's sole supplier 2014, despite Michelin having thrown its hat into the ring, Adam Cooper reported for ERJ’s sister publication Autoweek.
The French company has now confirmed to the FIA that it is interested in the role, leaving both the teams and Pirelli in limbo as they prepare for 2014.
Some top teams are known to be interested in at least discussing a change, despite the short lead time Michelin has before the start of testing for next season in late January.
Ecclestone has always been close to Pirelli, and has a lucrative commercial deal with the Italian manufacturer for trackside advertising and so on. Meanwhile, FIA president Jean Todt is known to be sympathetic to Michelin.
One senior team figure told Autoweek at Spa that it would require a bold decision by Todt to open the door for Michelin at this late stage, and given that an FIA election is coming up, such a controversial move seemed unlikely.
When asked by Autoweek about Michelin's chances, Ecclestone said simply that "FOM and Pirelli have a contract."
Asked why there was not yet a contract between the FIA and Pirelli -- the one that Paul Hembery says he is awaiting -- Bernie dismissed its relevance.
"We don't need one, I don't think," he told Autoweek. "They are nothing to do with commercial. The FIA's position is that they are regulators, they regulate all the regulations that have been agreed."
He was keen to downplay any role for Todt in the process of selecting the F1 tire supplier.
"Jean is the president of the FIA. If it's a matter of a vote in the World Council, he has one vote. As it's not a matter for the World Council, it doesn't make a lot of difference."
Ecclestone also denied that there was any interest from the teams in joining forces with Michelin.
"None of the teams who have spoken to me have said that. All the teams who have spoken to me say they are very happy with Pirelli, and the problems they've had, they're happy that they've dealt with them."
Although the regulations currently ensure that F1 has a sole supplier, there does seem some logic in a move towards competition in the future, given that both companies appear to be willing to pump money into the sport. Michelin has always preferred competition.
Intriguingly, Ecclestone said he does not support the idea of Michelin competing with Pirelli, "because they will want to pick the teams that they think will win, and they'll pay them a lot more money to take them as opposed to somebody else. We have a deal with Pirelli, anyway."
Exactly how the tire saga will play out in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that time is running out for all concerned.